A Brief History of Classical Zionist Ideologies

 Many attribute the rise of modern Zionism to the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1800’s. In 1894 A Jewish Austrian Journalist named Theodor Herzl covering the Dreyfus affair in France where Captain Alfred Dreyfus had been wrongly convicted of treason. It just so happened that Dreyfus was an assimilated Jew and Herzl himself too a rather assimilated Jew came to conclude from the anti-Semitic chanting in the crowds and the outcome of the case that the Jews could not assimilate in spite of their efforts. Herzl had been a member of the assimilationist camp, and advocated that the solution to the Jewish question was for all the Jews to assimilate into the countries they lived in. This event changed his view drastically, Herzl now believed that assimilation would not solve the problem of anti-Semitism and that neither would remaining Jewish in Europe.

Political Zionism


 If you will it it is no dream – Theodor Herzl

 In 1896 Herzl published a small Pamphlet titled The Jewish State – An attempt at a modern solution of the Jewish question. Herzl believed that the problem of anti-Semitism was the fact that the Jews were a nation themselves, who had lost their homeland nearly 2000 years ago when the Romans destroyed their temple and exiled a large percentage of its population, since then the Jews had been living as a nation among other nations. Herzl believed this to be the cause of anti-Semitism. Anti Semites hate Jews because they are an ‘abnormal’ people, and that if they had lived in their own land, with their own government, their own police force, army and everything else that every other nation has, then the Jews would be normalised and then anti-Semitism would cease to exist.

Herzl soon became known as the founder of modern political Zionism, founded the World Zionist Organisation and became its first president. The aims of Zionism laid out in the first World Zionist congress in 1897, were that Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz ­Israel secured under public law.”


Socialist Zionism     


In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles – David Ben Gurion 

Herzls secular, political Zionism has come to be associated with the original idea of Zionism. This is true to the extent that it wasn’t until Herzl’s works that the idea of Zionism became an active movement that acted as an official national liberation movement that had an organized program to achieve its goals. But the idea did not begin with Herzl. In 1862 a German Jewish Socialist and friend of Karl Marx named Moses Hess returned to his Jewish roots and wrote a book called Rome and Jerusalem: The last nationalist question. Herzl had not yet read Hess’s works, when he almost echoes that of Herzl, only written 34 years before the Jewish state was published. Hess however believed that a Jewish state must be Socialist and his works would be very influential in the future to the followers and ideologists of Socialist Zionism, including Max Nordau, Ber Borehov and Berl Katznelson.

Secular, Socialist Zionism became the mainstream political movement within Zionism. This manifested itself in the ideas of the Kibbutz movement and its success in establishing Jewish communities in Palestine, building and settling the country in agricultural conditions under collectivist socialist principles. There were a number of Socialist Zionist youth movements that existed at the time and still exist today including Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) Habonim Dror (The Builders of Freedom) and Hanoar Haoved (The Labour Youth). It was the Socialist Mapai Party led by David Ben Gurion that declared the independence of the State of Israel and led the state in its early years.

Revisionist Zionism


I devote my life to the rebirth of the Jewish State, with a Jewish majority, on both sides of the Jordan – Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky

Although Socialist Zionism constituted the mainstream and dominated the Zionist movement, a conservative opposition also existed. The movement was founded and led by another non-religious Jew born in Odessa, Russia by the name of Vladimir Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky believed strongly in the vision of Herzl. He believed that achieving a Jewish state would only be possible through armed struggle alone. The mainstream of the Zionist movement believed that the Arabs living in Palestine would benefit from Zionism. From the economic opportunities and higher standard of living that the Zionists would bring to the land and that the Arabs would not object to the establishment of a Jewish state but would welcome it. Jabotinsky believed that this was naïve and that they would not just submit to the Zionist dream. Jabotinsky played a big role in establishing Jewish defence forces including the Jewish Legion, which fought within the British army in WW1 and the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which later aimed to drive the British out of Palestine. Jabotinsky held that a Jewish state should be established in the whole of Palestine, which in his time consisted of both banks of the Jordan River, he founded the right wing Zionist youth movement, Betar. His movement opposed all suggestions during the mandate period to partition Palestine, which the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organisation remained open to. Revisionist Zionism manifests itself today within the Israeli Likud Party, its beliefs are the implementing of the idea of a ‘Greater Israel’ with Jewish sovereignty over the west bank and the Gaza strip and supports Jewish settlement in these areas. However in recent years many Likud governments have come to accept the necessity of territorial compromise, such as Ariel Sharon’s decision to disengage from the Gaza strip, or Bibi Netanyahu’s government agreeing to the concept of a Palestinian state in most of the West bank. Party members hold diverse views on these issues and the prime driver for such positions on land concessions are Israeli security concerns.            

 british mandate

Map of Palestine under the British Mandate

Jordan partition

Map of Palestine after partition in 1946 into a Jewish and Arab state, Israel to the west of the Jordan river and Jordan to the east.


Cultural Zionism

Ahad Haam

More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews – Ahad Ha’am

Herzl arrived at his ideas on Zionism largely through looking at the Jewish question from the position of the assimilated Jews in Western Europe and through the eyes of a Jew who was not particularly knowledgeable of Judaism or Jewish tradition. Zionist sentiment also began to emerge from those within the religiously orthodox communities. Born as Asher Zvi Ginzberg, later became better known by his pen name as Ahad Ha’am (One of the People) born in 1856 into an observant, orthodox family in the Russian Ukraine as part of the religious aristocracy of the Jewish ghetto of Skvira. Ahad Ha’am became very learned in the Jewish tradition of the community in which he lived, but developed an agnostic religious stance.

Unlike his Secular counterparts Ahad Ha’am did not see the Jews as being only a nation. For him, the Jewish religion was inseparable from Jewish Nationality. Whereas many within the Secular branches of Zionism were Atheists when it came to religion but identified with the Jews as a people. Ahad Ha’am adopted the belief in a Jewish homeland from a very different perspective to that of Herzl. Herzl was drawn to the idea of Zionism from anti-Semitism and concern for the survival of the Jews as people, whereas for Ahad Ha’am Zionism is concerned with the survival of Judaism as well.

Ahad Ha’am believed that the Jewish problem was a spiritual problem, as the Jews were a nation without a homeland, the Jewish people had survived for centuries on the Jewish religion alone to maintain its existence, in the modern era he believed this was no longer possible, for he saw the efforts of the reformer’s and the assimilationist’s attempting to separate the national and cultural element from Judaism and make it exclusively a religion, he felt that this not only was destroying Jewish nationality but also was destroying the Jewish religion.

The only way that Judaism would survive in the modern world would be a revival of the national and cultural life of the Jewish people, through the creation of a Jewish cultural centre in the land of Israel where a modern Jewish culture could be reborn, created by a select few and then act as a world centre for Judaism to then be spread throughout the Diaspora.

Ahad Ha’am thought that the Biblical idea of the “ingathering of the exiles” was impossible and not necessary in solving the Jewish problem, whereas thinkers like Herzl believed that the end goal of Zionism would involve all the Jews resettled in their own state, and then anti-Semitism would no longer exist, for he felt that the cause of anti-Semitism was the very existence of the Diaspora.  

Religious Zionism 

Rav Kook

Just as the Temple was destroyed through baseless hatred, it will only be rebuilt through baseless love. – Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook – First Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel

Within the Orthodox Jewish communities of the world at the time when Zionism started to have a major influence. The majority of religious Jews opposed Zionism largely because of its secular following, for the often anti-religious ideas of many of its modern, enlightened thinkers and pioneers posed a big threat to the continuity of the Jewish faith. The other reason for general opposition to Zionism was the religious belief that the Jews must not actively seek to bring about their redemption by returning to the land of Israel en Mass until the coming of the Messiah. One Rabbi did not share this view; his name was Rav. Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook. Kook became the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, followed by Jerusalem and later the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.

 Kook had a love of all Jews, even the ones who disagreed with him, even the ones who didn’t believe in God. His religious counter-parts viewed the secular Kibbutznik pioneers, as blasphemous, impious and violating Gods will.

Kook believed that the Zionist movements’ establishment was part of God’s plan. God was using the secular Zionists to build a state for the Jewish people. He believed that this was the beginning of the messianic era. The Jews may be secular, but he felt that in time they will return to Judaism, and Israel will eventually become a Jewish state governed by Jewish law. He did not have a great following in the early days of Zionism, nor tremendous influence. For even when the state of Israel was established orthodox Jews had still not fully accepted Zionism or Kooks ideas. The major turning point where religious Zionism began to gain a much larger following was after Israel’s victory over the Arab states in June 1967. Israel had now conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank including East Jerusalem with the Old City from Jordan. 


Israel 1948-1967 Borders     

Israel post67Conquered territory after the 1967 war

This miraculous victory in only six days, uniting Jerusalem for the first time in nearly 2000 years under Jewish control, created a change in religious attitudes towards Zionism. Where many had for years opposed Zionism due to its largely atheist and anti-religious following, growing numbers of religious Jews came to believe that Kooks ideas may well have been right, for Israel’s military success and achievements may well have been made possible with Gods help. The events of 1967 was a critical year where an increase of religious Jews began to rally around the idea of Zionism through settling the whole of the land of Israel, taking part in what was believed to be the beginning of the end of days, and the coming of the Messiah. 

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